Better Living Through Chemistry

Science and craft combine at SPUN Ice Cream

Photos by John Anderson

It was probably inevitable that SPUN Ice Cream's Christina and Ashley Cheng would go into the food business. The sisters' father, Ronald Cheng, is a legend in the Austin hospitality business, having owned and operated the upscale Chinatown restaurants for more than 30 years. It probably helped too that Christina studied baking and pâtisserie at Le Cordon Bleu and that Ashley has worked behind the scenes in PR and as the vice president and communications chair of Slow Food Austin. To say they know the business is an understatement.

That business headstart shows in their fully realized shop. Like most similar businesses around town, SPUN has a small, minimalist dining room full of DIY charm. One chalkboard-painted wall lists flavors, pairings, ingredients, and prices. Frames highlight doodles from youngest sister Bella. And sky blue paint highlights simple plywood benches, stools, and fixtures. The main event, however, is the four industrial KitchenAid mixers attached to liquid nitrogen generators, giving the shop a lab-like vibe.

Still, the science is no gimmick. The size and the dispersement of the ice crystals in ice cream have everything to do with the texture. The longer it takes for an ice cream's base to freeze, the larger the crystals, creating a grainy texture. Liquid nitrogen reduces the freezing process to seconds, resulting in tiny ice crystals and an uncommonly smooth texture. Even the nondairy flavors (Earl Grey was available when we sampled) have such a creamy texture that it is difficult to remember that they are vegan.

The dairy flavors are even richer. Dark chocolate has the lushness chocolate demands, and vanilla bean reminds that the flavor doesn't have to be synonymous with bland. Three flavors rotate, but have included gingerbread and kettle corn in the past. The rotation also includes a composed treat. During the shop's opening, kettle corn was topped with peanut brittle, brown butter powder, and caramel popcorn sprinkles à la Cracker Jack (and a temporary tattoo of the shop's logo). The current suggestion is the Lemon Bar: vanilla bean topped with a shortbread crumble, tart Meyer lemon curd, and tiny dots of candied-citrus confetti. There are plenty of other pairings for those who like to experiment. The shortbread crumble gave lasting crunch to the chocolate, and the salted chocolate shell loosened up the proper Earl Grey.

All of the flavors are achieved with local ingredients, organic where possible. The dairy comes from small-batch Liberty Dairy Farms in Hico, an operation devoted to ethical animal care and sustainable practices – and antibiotic-free, nonhomogenized, low-temperature pasteurized milk and cream. Everything is made to order without emulsifiers, so the result is as fresh as you can get.

It's a perfect mid-afternoon treat for this unseasonably mild winter. But if by some calamity the temperatures drop, you can still get the flavors in a "steamie."

SPUN Ice Cream

1912-D E. Seventh, 512/524-1768
Sun.-Thu., 12:30-10pm; Fri.-Sat., 12:30-11pm

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Ashley Cheng, Christina Cheng, Bella Cheng, Ronald Cheng, Chinatown

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